CNMI Senate Passes Pay Raise Bill For Executive Officials, Legislators

Activist claims process of approval violated several constitutional provisions

By Jon Perez 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 7, 2016) – The Senate voted 8-0 to pass a bill increasing the salaries of all elected CNMI officials—governor, lieutenant governor, mayors, and legislators—in yesterday’s session that dragged on until late 8pm.

House Bill 19-3 HS1 HD1, introduced by House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan), now goes to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for signing.

HB 19-3 would also enact a new base salary schedule and increase the salary ceiling for classified civil service government employees.

Senate President Fancisco M. Borja, Senate Vice President Arnold I. Palacios, floor leader Steve K. Mesngon, legislative secretary Teresita A. Santos, and Sens. Francisco Q. Cruz, Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), and Justo S. Quitugua were present; Sen. Paul A. Manglona was off-island.

The bill is based on a report of the Advisory Commission on Elected Official Compensation, which was created through Public Law 19-51 last July 14. The commission—composed of Hofschneider, Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan), Reps. Joseph Leepan Guerrero (R-Saipan) and Antonio P. Sablan (Ind-Saipan); former Senate president Pete P. Reyes; special assistant for Management and Budget Virginia C. Villagomez, and Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s Alex A. Sablan—submitted its report last month.

The commission reviewed the compensation of the governor, lieutenant governor, the mayors, legislators, justices, judges, and other government officials. The commission’s recommendation was to increase the salaries of the four positions of all elected officials.

The bill drew mixed reactions from the community. The administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and GOP members of the Legislature clearly supported the increase, but there were some that opposed the bill, saying that certain provisions of the CNMI Constitution were violated.

The administration believes that now is the right time to increase the compensation of all elected officials; the last adjustment took place 25 yeas ago.

The commission studied and compared several compensation principles before discussing their final recommendation and voting to adopt their report.

They compared the CNMI salary to the national and regional data they collected from all elected officials in other U.S. jurisdictions. The governor’s salary in the territories and commonwealths range from a low of $70,000 (CNMI) to a high of $150,000 (U.S. Virgin Islands).

The commission also used smaller surveys that showed that $62,000 is the average salary of a mayor and used that figure as a reference for the proposed $75,000 increase from $43,200. CNMI legislators also have the lowest salary at $39,300 compared to Guam at $85,000. The national salary average of lawmakers in the U.S. is $69,448.

However, Guam senators—after passing a bill that increased their salaries to $85,000 from $55,000 in 2014—voted 13-2 to roll back their pay raise to the original amount.

Opposition

Activist Glen Hunter opposed the bill, saying the commission’s report is not valid since the constitutional requirement was violated. “In this case though, there are numerous constitutional violations. The bill, if it becomes a law, violates numerous sections of the Constitution.”

“The advisory commission legally had 90 days from July 14 to transmit the report to the Legislature. They transmitted it on Nov. 10, way past the legal deadline. Just another unconstitutional issue [since] the law that created the commission [states] 30 days from July 13 to form and 60 days to transmit.”

Hunter also cited Article II Section 15 of the CNMI Constitution: “A member of the Legislature who has a financial or personal interest in a bill before the Legislature shall disclose that interest and may not debate on or vote on the bill.”

He added that members of the commission stated they did not get the change in the CNMI’s composite price index since 1991, which was constitutionally required. “The 80 percent increase will cost taxpayers over $1 million a year. The bill does not specify a source of funding.”

Hunter suggested the legislators could have helped staff the hospital, increased the salaries of public school teachers, utility upgrades, and other things that would have benefitted the community instead of increasing their salaries.

Reminder

Joseph M. Pangelinan, chief for employee development and staffing at the Office of Personnel Management, recommended that the Senate body reinstate the language that was previously on Section 102 of the original bill.

“Notwithstanding the salary resulting from the implementation of this salary schedule in accordance with an established salary compensation table, each civil service employee receiving less than $2,000 annual increase after placement on the new salary shall receive an additional adjustment by the Office of Personnel Management to the lowest step in pay level that will provide a total annual increase of no less than $2,000,” said in the language.

Pangelinan also reminded the senators that civil servants shoulder most of the financial sacrifices that’s required during a CNMI government-wide austerity measure.

“Their salary increases were suspended for about 14 years and during that same period excepted service employees continued to receive salary adjustments upon renewal of their excepted service employment contracts.”

“Only recently, after the lifting of the salary increase suspension that they began to receive the increases. If nothing is done to promote fairness in compensation, classified servants will be overlooked and shortchanged,” added Pangelinan.

Saipan Tribune
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